My post “Honest Words from 5 Survivors: What I Wish Catholics Understood” seems to have struck a chord with quite a few people. Many Catholics have been reading and sharing, and I am honored that several more survivors reached out to me to share their own reflections.
I would be happy to create more posts in this series, to continue to lift up the diverse voices of survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. If you are among them, please know that your voice matters. Whatever your experience or perspective or current situation, I am open to listening. Please feel free to post a comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have thoughts to share. All correspondence will be kept completely confidential, and I will confirm your consent before posting anything here.
Words from Survivors - What I Wish Catholics Understood
I wish Catholics understood that the Church, the place that is supposed to be my second home, let me down thrice. First, when one of its own priests used his power and position to groom me as a child and molest me as a teen and young adult. Second, when it elevated this priest to Bishop, then Archbishop - each time bringing his name and face front and center in my life when I had tried to forget and move on. Third, when it looked over the mountains of evidence I supplied, even when I pointed out that I had nothing to gain.
Often (as in my case), priests know who to target. I suffered terrible abuse in my own home first.
Does it effect me today, 38 years after postulancy? Yes! Male images and names for God. Trust. Depth of relationship. Honesty and forthrightness. Hierarchical church with men in power.
I am always acutely aware of the proximity of any priest to me. I can't talk to a priest unless I have something very specific I need to address.
At my lowest point, I crawled under a pew in our empty choir loft during Mass to be able to keep the Sunday Obligation.
I hate when I am protesting or giving a speech and some shy person comes up and wants to help me and says I'll pray for you. This is a sweet thought, but I am mad that no action to stand up for victims will come from them.
My current confessor knows my story and has walked this journey with me. Even with three years worth of confessions with this priest, I am terrified of him and I often worry that I tempt him. I often believe deep down that I am evil and that all I do is tempt priests (although I don't talk to them, dress modestly, and basically avoid them except for sacraments). I can't get past my self-hatred.
I’m trying to stay faithful, but I’m challenged and discounted and belittled by those who don’t understand my commitment and don’t believe as I do.
All my skirts now touch the floor. There was one time in the last year I attended a wedding and wore a dress that was at my knees. (My husband wanted me to.) I felt physically ill when I approached the altar for Communion and felt like a slut for days after. I will never wear that dress again.
There is no feeling normal in the church. Normal people can just stand next to the priest and chitchat after church. Normal people can sit in a pew, look at the priest during the homily, have him make eye contact with them and be okay.
I wish Catholics understood how devastatingly lonely it is.
Lord, open our hearts to be compassionate listeners, ready to be changed and moved to action by the voices of survivors.